Much was written after 9/11 about the failure of imagination. There were plenty of warning signs: suspected terrorists who trained to fly commercial airliners, extreme levels of “chatter” on the internet, the CIA’s grave warning, “bin Laden determined to strike in the U.S.” Yet we somehow couldn’t connect the dots. Why? Because the act itself – flying commercial airliners into skyscrapers – seemed so horrible, so shocking, as to be literally, “unimaginable.” The same phenomenon had similarly tragic consequences at Pearl Harbor. The soldiers manning the radar saw the blips of the incoming planes. And yet…what? They assumed it must be nothing. A false-positive, perhaps a squadron of U.S. planes coming from the wrong direction. And no warning was issued. A real attack seemed so outside the realm of experience, it was “unimaginable.”
In Hitler’s Germany, there was also a catastrophic failure of imagination. There were many responses to Hitler’s appearance on the scene: he was worshiped by the extremists on the right, despised by the left, but most of the populace started out somewhere in between. They realized he said some crazy things. But to actually do them…it could never happen. Surely, he didn’t literally mean, “exterminate the Jews.” That was not “imaginable”. Yes, he was strange, obsessed, certainly very angry. But…there was also something magnetic about him. And wasn’t it true that Germany had been punished unfairly at Versailles, and that the world was abusing them, and that Germany was weak? Here was someone who spoke of strength. Who despised anything weak. And who had simple answers: it was the fault of them. The Jews, the outsiders, the group that was easy to scapegoat.
And now here we are in 2017. We have a president who says crazy, delusional things. Who fits perfectly the Fascist personality-type: angry, authoritarian, paranoid, narcissistic, vindictive. And a great many of his acts, both during the campaign and during his first week, bear the hallmarks of Fascism: he encouraged his thugs to punch protestors. He undermines the free press, calling them liars and worse (Hitler called them the “Lugenpresse”, or “lying press”). He has shut down free expression in the EPA, the National Park Service, and all around the Federal Government. He has promised a weekly list of crimes committed by illegal aliens in sanctuary cities – so reminiscent of the demonization of the Jews in Nazi Germany. Moreover, his followers have the same worshipful idolization of him as Hitler’s followers had of their fuhrer, and are equally impervious to counter-facts and counter-argument. He has the Republicans cowed and the Democrats stunned. He is pro-torture as a positive good, praises dictators who murder their opponents, has the megalomania of a Fascist and the same paranoid delusion that the world is against him.
So what am I saying? That Donald Trump is a true Fascist? Yes. Emphatically, categorically, YES! These are not mere parallels. He is the thing itself.
We still have institutions capable of resisting Fascism – the Supreme Court, the Press, even, perhaps, Congress. But what if they are all terrorized into silence? If we cross that tipping point? What then?
Sometimes the unimaginable happens. Terrorists really did fly commercial airliners into the twin towers. The Japanese really did fly across the Pacific to attack Pearl Harbor. Hitler really did exterminate 6 million Jews and 3 million others. Let’s not be guilty of a failure of imagination right now. Let’s not say it can’t happen, simply because we can’t imagine it.
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